ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: March 27, 2017 09:52 AM GMT
Hong Kong's chief executive-elect Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in Hong Kong on March 27 a day after Lam won the Hong Kong chief executive election. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP)
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor became the first woman chief executive of Hong Kong in a controversial win that many commentators claim was engineered by Beijing.
A former chief secretary and deputy to current Chief Executive CY Leung, 59-year-old Lam is the city's fourth Hong Kong chief executive. She will be sworn in July 1, the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China.
Lam is a practicing Catholic but many of Hong Kong's faithful have doubts about where her loyalties lay. This election was widely criticized as the 'darkest' one yet by many commentators.
Political figures have spoken publicly of Beijing's strong preference for Lam with some implying that the central government would not appoint popular John Tsang Chun-wah, another Catholic candidate, even if he was elected. Lam was chosen by the 1,194 member Hong Kong Election Committee comprised mostly of Beijing loyalists committee as the city's next chief executive.
Local media reported that the electors, speaking on condition of anonymity, were pressured by Chinese officials to elect Lam who received 777 votes.
Tsang obtained 365 votes, the majority from the pro-democracy camp. The third candidate Woo Kwok-hing obtained only 21 votes.
Leo Yip, a Catholic elector who declined to reveal who he voted for, believed the central government would further interfere in Hong Kong's affairs during Lam's five-year term.
Bruce Lui, senior lecturer of journalism at Baptist University, told ucanews.com that "Lam won not through her own strengths but through Beijing's blessing and the Hong Kong Liaison Office who lobbied for her and exerted pressure on electors, particularly those from the pro-Beijing camp and business sectors."
"She may have to pay her supporters back later," said Lui.
Over 7 million people in Hong Kong were excluded in the restricted election system. They have been making their frustrations known and claiming the vote was fixed.
However, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs' Office of the State Council in Beijing claim the election was conducted in "an open, fair, just and orderly manner."
Reneging on promises
Given Lam's record of reneging on promises, her religious reform proposal in her manifesto aroused concerns on whether it could resurface under pressure from Beijing.
In her manifesto, Lam's controversially proposed the establishment of a religious affairs committee that many feared would result in state interference in religious affairs, akin to what occurs on the mainland. Lam later apologized and promised to remove the proposal after meeting opposition from the Catholic diocese and some Christian churches.
Describing the proposed religious policy as "stupid," Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, told ucanews.com in early March that he believed it was likely an idea from Beijing. Cardinal Zen said that Lam might not have been aware how controversial it would be.
Given that some religious leaders still support the idea, "we need to closely observe if she re-tables the policy later on the grounds that some religions support it," Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told ucanews.com.
Challenge to unite people
Beijing officials for Hong Kong affairs have reiterated four qualities needed for a chief executive: love of China and Hong Kong, trust from the central government, governing ability and the support of local people.
Many people have longed for a new chief executive who could mend the social spilt that appeared during the pro-democratic Umbrella Movement in 2014 that has not gone away.
However, Lam pledged to follow the line of the unpopular outgoing Chief Executive CY Leung, earning herself the nickname "CY 2.0." Leung was known for his obedience to Beijing and for dismissing public appeals.
Paul Ng, chair of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, told ucanews.com that majority of the pro-democrats did not support Lam. "Mending relations will be difficult. But it will be an opportunity for the pro-democrats, who have been split after the Umbrella Movement, to be united again."
The pro-democrats started to split on how to continue their fight for democracy after the 79-day civil disobedience movement ended. Some of the youth turned radical and have demanded independence of Hong Kong from China.
The election shows that Beijing will not accept moderate candidates such as Tsang and will continue to favor those with a tough approach, Ng added.